Apple updates iPad Pro with a trackpad, faster processor. Is it a real computer now?

Ooh, check us out rivals, we've got a 'keyboard'.. well, not a real one. It's Magic, OK?


A common refrain in Apple’s hymnbook is that the iPad Pro is a legitimate computer, much like a MacBook Pro. Marketing aside, most professionals are yet to be convinced, noting that Cupertino’s increasingly pricey fondleslabs lack the essential features of a computer – like, for example, a pointing device.

Enter the latest iPad Pro, which received a radical refresh today. Apple claims the new model – which comes in 11-inch and 12.9-inch variants – is “more powerful than most Windows PC laptops.” Their words, not ours.

At the heart of the device is an overhauled octa-core A12Z Bionic platform that Apple claims has improved thermal management versus previous versions. You’ll likely need it, given Apple is touting the iPad Pro as a tool for editing weighty 4K video footage.

Apple has also tarted up the optics, adding a second camera. In addition to a 12MP wide-angle shooter, there’s also a 10MP ultra-wide camera that’s capable of 2X optical zoom. Accompanying that is a LIDAR scanner, which can help the tablet understand the tablet’s surroundings – something that’s useful for AR applications.

On the sound front, the pricey tablet also includes a constellation of five microphones, which can capture audio with a better fidelity than previous models, and is more capable of negating background interference.

Arguably, the most manifestly important change is on the peripheral front, thanks to the release of new keyboard that for the first time includes a trackpad.

This has been a long time coming. Apple introduced pointer functionality with the first iPadOS release, but it wasn’t really pitched as a tool for everyday use, but rather an accessibility feature. This was a bit of a head-scratcher, particularly when the primary rival to the iPad Pro, the Microsoft Surface, had (obviously) included trackpad support from day one.

Analyst Ben Wood at CCS Insight opined: "For years Apple resisted support for a mouse and trackpad on the iPad. That changed last year with the announcement of support for external storage and a mouse on iPadOS. Apple has now fully embraced that user interface paradigm with the inclusion of a trackpad on the new 'magic keyboard'. It will be interesting to see how this changes the user interaction with an iPad and how application developers take advantage of it."

Per Apple, iPad OS 13.4's trackpad support is fairly fleshed out, and supports the usual gestures that let you traverse apps and multitask easily. Most existing apps should support gestures already, although Apple is offering specific iPad trackpad APIs for those apps to add their own functionality.

The new Magic Keyboard is undoubtedly the most interesting iPad Pro keyboard announced to date. As the name implies, it uses the scissor mechanism found on the 16-inch MacBook Pro – as well as the latest MacBook Air, which Apple also drew the veil back on today.

iPad Pro Trackpad

The Magic Keyboard includes a floating hinge design that allows users to adjust the height of the display in relation to the keyboard. Users can also adjust the viewing angle up to 130˚. There's also a USB-C port for charging, allowing users to use the tablet's USB-C device for other stuff, like external storage.

Really... it costs that much?

Of course, this doesn't come cheap. The base 11-inch slab retails at £769 for the Wi-Fi model and £919 for the LTE variant. Prefer a larger screen to play with? The 12.9-inch iPad Pro starts at £969 for the Wi-Fi model and £1,119 for the cellular-capable one.

For that, you get 128GB of storage. This can be boosted to 256GB, 512GB and 1TB, but at a steep cost.

And that's before you factor in the price of the Magic Keyboard, which retails at £299 for the 11-inch model, and £349 for the 12.9-inch model. Want an Apple Pencil? That'll be a further £119.

So, yeah. Any configuration of the iPad Pro will be a pricey proposition. It compares reasonably to its closest rival, the Microsoft Surface Pro 7, however. A middle-of-the-road config of Redmond's premium tablet will set you back over a grand, and that's before you consider the price of a keyboard.

Wood at CCS Insights added: "It is hard to assess how well the ['Magic Keyboard'] concept works without trying it, but it is certainly a compelling design, which is likely to be the main talking point around this latest version of the iPad Pro. The only issue I foresee is that it will have an eyewatering price tag, particularly given the existing Smart Keyboard Folio for the current iPad already costs £179, which is more than a 10-inch Amazon Fire HD 10-inch tablet."

In theory, the Magic Keyboard has the potential to elevate the iPad Pro to a more universal productivity tool, rather than the preserve of road-warrior creatives. Whether this new approach will help boost its market share is anyone's guess, however.

Those familiar with El Reg's fraught relationship with Cupertino will have probably guessed that we weren't pre-briefed for this. Not to worry though – we can't wait to go to an Apple Store and get our hands on…

Oh. Never mind. ®


Vodafone chief gushes over OpenRAN, says commercial deployments to start this year

But still some way to go before standards-based tech can match mainstream products

Last year Vodafone bet big on OpenRAN, announcing it would shift a huge portion of its tower estate to the standards-based tech. Now Andrew Dona, the telco's director of network and development, has shed some light on how this will work.

Speaking to Telecom TV, Dona said Vodafone had already deployed two OpenRAN sites to its production network, situated in the southwest of England. These deployments are part of its testing process, which Dona said would conclude in May.

The wide-scale macro rollout, which will replace roughly 2,600 4G masts with OpenRAN alternatives, is expected to commence later this year, winding up in 2027 in time to meet the UK government's edict to excise high-risk vendors from the telecommunications networks.

In 2019, Vodafone's then-CTO, Scott Petty, said 32 per cent of its 4G base stations used Huawei-made kit. The following year, he said Vodafone's Huawei-based 5G NSA (non-standalone) RAN equipment was "inextricably linked" to its legacy networks, which include 5G. Removing Huawei's equipment from the RAN and legacy core networks is expected to cost approximately €200 million (roughly £170 million) over a five-year period.

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Swedish startup Logical Clocks takes a crack at scaling MySQL backend for live recommendations

Takes a 'different approach' to YouTube's Vitess to munch complex transactions in microseconds

Swedish startup Logical Clocks is launching a new key-value database as a managed service, based on the MySQL derivative MySQL NDB Cluster.

The vendor told us its RonDB can be used to provide live data to machine learning models for real-time decision-making – as commonly used in online recommendations and fraud detection.

Although it has a history going back to the late 1990s, the new open-source distribution is currently in closed beta, with interested users encouraged to apply to participate. General availability is expected in the second quarter.

Logical Clocks said the database can respond in 100-200 microseconds on individual requests, in less than a millisecond on batched read requests and perform complex transactions in a highly loaded cluster within 10 milliseconds. It can perform hundreds of millions of read or write operations per second, the company added, and apparently offers 99.9999 per cent availability – no more than 30 seconds of downtime per year.

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Microsoft quantum lab retracts published paper: Readings that cast doubt on crucial discovery went AWOL

Quasiparticle eggheads were 'caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment'

A paper published in Nature two years ago and spearheaded by a Microsoft scientist has been retracted after it emerged that the data presented simply didn't add up.

The work was produced at a quantum computer lab set up by Microsoft and QuTech, a research center co-founded by the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands. The study, led by Microsoftie and TU Delft Professor Leo Kouwenhoven, reported the discovery of a theoretical quasiparticle the academics believed would prove useful for future quantum computers.

"A 2018 academic paper published in Nature and led by one of our scientific directors, primarily in his capacity as a Professor at TU Delft, was retracted,” Zulfi Alam, a Microsoft Quantum unit veep, told The Register on Monday.

“As part of proposing the retraction, the authors of the paper took feedback from the scientific community, re-analyzed the data, wrote a new paper based on the analysis, and embraced the paper’s examination by independent experts in the field. This is an excellent example of the scientific process at work.

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Deploy AI workloads with confidence using OpenVINO

Write once, deploy anywhere

Sponsored Artificial Intelligence techniques have been finding their way into business applications for some time now. From chatbots forming the first line of engagement in customer services, to image recognition systems that can identify defects in products before they reach the end of the production line in a factory.

But many organisations are still stuck at where to start in building machine-learning and deep-learning models and taking them all the way from development through to deployment. Another complication is how to deploy a model onto a different system than the one that was used to train it. Especially for situations such as edge deployments, where less compute power is available than in a datacentre.

One solution to these problems is to employ OpenVINO™ (Open Visual Inference & Neural Network Optimization), a toolkit developed by Intel to speed the development of applications involving high-performance computer vision and deep-learning inferencing, among other use cases. OpenVINO takes a trained model, and optimises it to operate on a variety of Intel hardware, including CPUs, GPUs, Intel® Movidius™ Vision Processing Unit (VPU), FPGAs, or the Intel® Gaussian & Neural Accelerator (Intel® GNA).

This means that it acts like an abstraction layer between the application code and the hardware. It can also fine tune the model for the platform the customer wants to use, claims Zoë Cayetano, Product Manager for Artificial Intelligence & Deep Learning at Intel. “That's really useful when you're taking an AI application into production. There's a variety of different niche challenges in inferencing that we've tackled with OpenVINO, that are different from when models and applications are in the training phase,” she says.

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China outlines plan to boost economy with AI, a cloud OS it controls – and bringing in skilled foreigners

Other fun bits: An 'asteroid patrol', brain:computer fusion, DNA storage, enhanced privacy laws

China has put quantum communications networks and a brain:machine interface on its to-do list in plans unveiled at its annual "Two Sessions" parliamentary sittings.

The centerpiece of the Two Sessions, which sees 5,000 of the nation's political elite gather for meetings of the National People's Congress (NPC) and top political advisory body the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), is discussion of a new five-year plan for the nation's development.

The 14th Five-Year Plan, a document outlining objectives from 2021 until 2025, is not allowed to be released before finalization. However a 142-page long draft in Mandarin was made legally public and select parts have been translated by Chinese journalist, Zichen Wang of state-controlled Xinhua News.

According to his translations, the five-year plan has two sections that pertain to technology.

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Mobile World Congress seemingly serious about in-person Barcelona event in June, shares safety plan

Is Spain really ready for 50,000 people at one venue? Sounds like a super spreader event ready to happen

Mobile World Congress appears determined to run its annual Barcelona super-conference as an in-person event this year, mid-pandemic, posting a safety plan online on Monday.

The tech-fest is due to take place at the end of June, having been pushed back from its usual late February slot, giving it less than four months until doors open: a risky timeline given that the vaccination rate for Spain and the Catalan region currently stands at just under nine per cent.

But the organizers reckon that the global COVID-19 pandemic can be defeated within the walls of its conference venue with a few simple steps: social distancing, personal hygiene, event hygiene, and training staff.

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GitHub bug briefly gave valid authenticated session cookies to wrong users

Don’t panic: Fewer than 0.001% of sessions compromised through flaw that couldn’t be maliciously triggered

If you visit GitHub today you’ll be asked to authenticate anew because the code collaboration locker has squished a bug that sometimes “misrouted a user’s session to the browser of another authenticated user, giving them the valid and authenticated session cookie for another user.”

GitHub disclosed the problem today, explain that it could only happen under “extremely rare circumstances” and “occurred in fewer than 0.001% of authenticated sessions on GitHub.com.”

The service knows which users’ sessions were exposed by the flaw and says it has contacted them with guidance and additional information.

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Azure flings out free virtual trusted platform module for cloudy VMs

Take that, rootkits and other low-level nasties - if they take a crack at fresh VMs, on certain instance types under a handful of OSes

Microsoft has revealed that its Azure IaaS platform now offers free a virtual trusted platform module.

Dubbed “Azure Trusted Launch for virtual machines” and launched as a preview on March 8th, Microsoft’s CTO for Azure Mark Russinovich said the new offering “allows administrators to deploy virtual machines with verified and signed bootloaders, OS kernels, and a boot policy that leverages the Trusted Launch Virtual Trusted Platform Module (vTPM) to measure and attest to whether the boot was compromised.”

All of which is pretty familiar stuff on-prem, as TPM has been around for over a decade and is just-about standard issue on modern servers. Google brought virtual TPM to its cloud in mid-2018 and made it the default server configuration in April 2020.

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Cisco issues blizzard of end-of-life notices for Nexus 3K and 7K switches

Service options decline starting next year... so there may be a Nexus 9K switch in your future

Cisco has in recent days issued a blizzard of end-of-life and end-of-sale announcement for switches in its Nexus 3000 and Nexus 7000 ranges.

By The Register’s count, the networking giant has announced that the 18 devices, listed below, across the ranges will soon be sent to the knacker's yard.

The initial batch of notices advised users that the listed devices would not be sold after late August 2021, with shipments to end in November of the same year and support services dwindling as of August 2022. November 2025 was set as the last date on which a service contract could be renewed.

However, Chipzilla has since updated a handful of the notices and extended some of the deadlines mentioned above by as much as 18 months. You can find the 3K notices here and the 7K notices here. The last day of hardware support will be sometime in 2026 or 2027, depending on the model.

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Apple emits patches for iOS, macOS, Safari, etc to stop dodgy websites hijacking people's gadgets

Plus: Chrome also patched, Microsoft and Intel team up for homomorphic encryption, and more

In brief Apple on Monday released security patches for macOS, iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, and Safari to fix up a vulnerability that can be exploited by malicious web pages to run malware on victims' computers and gadgets.

Thus surfing to a dodgy page could be enough to hand over control of your iThing or Mac to miscreants. Apple thanks Clément Lecigne of Google’s Threat Analysis Group and Alison Huffman of Microsoft Browser Vulnerability Research for reporting the arbitrary code execution security flaw, CVE-2021-1844, which is present in WebKit, the browser engine used by various bits of Cupertino code.

As such, users should upgrade to Safari 14.0.3, macOS Big Sur 11.2.3, watchOS 7.3.2, iOS 14.4.1, and iPadOS 14.4.1, as necessary.

Here's a rapid-fire summary of other infosec news today.

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